Hearing Loss in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Associated Conditions

sleeping child oblivious to blaring bullhorn that has startled her teddy bear

Children with cerebral palsy are more prone to hearing loss than other children. In fact, research indicates that about 15-20% of children with cerebral palsy have a hearing impairment of some kind. Without proper treatment, hearing loss in children with cerebral palsy can lead to difficulties in language development and social interactions are they grow older. These issues can be particularly problematic when combined with a visual impairment. Learn more about hearing loss in cerebral palsy and available treatments.

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss of any type interferes with a child’s ability to learn and interact with the world around them. Diagnosing the specific type of hearing loss affecting your child can help your doctor determine the appropriate course of treatment. Generally speaking, hearing loss falls into two categories:
Sensorineural Hearing Loss – This type of hearing loss affects either the nerve fibers or the cells found in the inner ear. Higher pitched or faint noises are often difficult to hear for those affected by this condition. Some sufferers also report imbalance and dizziness or frequent ringing in the ears. Birth injuries, head trauma or excessive exposure to loud noises have all been linked to sensorineural hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss – This type of hearing loss affects the outer and middle ear, causing issues with the eardrums and ossicles. Generally speaking, this condition makes it difficult for your ears to process sounds properly. Conductive hearing loss is typically caused by trapped fluid or earwax buildup. Severe cases can be brought on by malformation of the ear canal at birth.
A third condition, mixed hearing loss, occurs when symptoms of both conditions are present. About 10% of children with cerebral palsy will develop sensorineural hearing loss, whereas conductive hearing loss is much more common.

Signs of Hearing Loss

Like many conditions associated with cerebral palsy, early detection of hearing loss in your child makes treating the condition much more effective. As a parent, it is likely that you will notice the early warning signs before your child’s teachers or doctors.
Children with hearing loss do not startle easily at loud noises. They pay closer attention to a person’s face while they are speaking than a normal child would. When communicating with them, they may frequently ask you to repeat what you said. These, as well as other signs, could indicate that your child has a hearing impairment. If you notice these signs at any time into your child’s life, schedule an appointment with an audiologist as soon as possible.

Treatment for Hearing Loss

There are a variety of treatments available to treat hearing loss in children with cerebral palsy. Most cases of conductive hearing loss can be treated and even completely restored with the use of corrective surgeries. Less invasive forms of treatment for this condition include the use of hearing aids and certain antibiotics.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be a bit trickier to correct. If the patient is brought in within 24 hours of the onset of the condition, certain surgeries have the potential to fully reverse the damage. Otherwise, corrective surgeries have yet to demonstrate a reliable outcome in treating sensorineural hearing loss; about 50% of those suffering from the condition can correct it using surgery. The most common methods to treat those suffering from sensorineural hearing loss include hearing aids or cochlear implants. In any case, talk to your child’s doctor or audiologist to best determine how to treat your child’s hearing impairment.
As with any condition associated with cerebral palsy, the earlier you obtain a diagnosis and begin treatment, the better the prognosis for your child.

Further Reading

Hearing Loss Association of America
KidsHealth.org – Hearing Loss

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?